“You Can’t Do Real Work On An iPad”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this nor will it probably be the last. But I was surprised because it came from a man around my age who works as an IT manager for a large company. He began by explaining how frustrating his company’s new BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiative has been for his department.

He mentioned that a number of executives were looking to replace their bulky laptops with iPads after watching a number of employees bring them to meetings. Some employees were even leaving their laptops back in the office and going on the road with only an iPad.

But nobody’s doing work on them.

I’d normally jump with example after detailed example of how I use my iPad. But I’ve had those conversations and they’re a waste of time. There’s nothing I can say to change his mind. Of course, he didn’t actually own an iPad, but he was sure it was only good for Angry Birds, reading and web surfing. I chimed in with Netflix just to show I was listening.

This argument that one can’t complete real work on a tablet has run its course.  It also reminds me when I purchased my first PC that ran DOS. At least 90% of software stores were filled with PC games which gave the impression that was all they were good for. Friends without PC told me I’d bought a $2000 game machine.

My iPad didn’t replace my laptop because I never owned a laptop. It hasn’t replaces my Windows desktop either. I didn’t write this post on my iPad to prove a point although I could have. The point is that IT managers would do well to embrace tablets and all mobile devices instead of denigrate them.  I suspect those executives who want iPads spend much of their day reading emails and occasionally writing a short reply. Maybe they need to research a competitor or prepare for an interview. I doubt they editing HD video, rendering 3D objects or pushing Photoshop to its limits.

Use the device that works best for you. Just don’t try to tell me what I can’t do with my iPad.

Downcast for Podcasts

When I heard Apple plans to remove the podcasting functionally from iOS 6, I decided to see whatIMG_0842 other apps might feel the void. What I didn’t understand at the time was that Apple wasn’t far from releasing a standalone app called, well, Podcasts.

It’s not a terrible app and it’s free. If you occasionally listen to podcasts it won’t get in the way.

But it’s not great, and if you listen to a lot of podcasts (or a few religiously) you want a great app that’s responsive, makes searching and adding new podcasts a cinch, and automatically downloads new episodes in the background.

So my suggestion is to pony up the two bucks and grab the nifty Downcast that does all that and more. 

The best compliment I can give Downcast is that it’s earned a spot on my iPhone’s home screen.

“Priming the Pump”

“No comment”

Those were the words of Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, when asked about the reaction of his PC partners when told of the Surface tablet.

Of course, this isn’t Microsoft’s first attempt at building their own hardware device running Microsoft software. They did it with the ill-fated Zune media player and with the successful Xbox console.

But what happened this evening at Milk Studios in Hollywood signals a much more pointed assessment of Ballmer’s trust in OEMs to compete head on with the best selling Apple iPad.


Neither Zune nor Xbox ran Windows as we know it, nor did they compete head to head with current Microsoft partners such as Dell and HP. No pesky channel conflict to be found.

But that all changed today.

Think about this for a moment: companies such as Dell, HP, Sony, Lenovo and many others will now be purchasing Windows licenses from the company they are competing against in the tablet market.  Ballmer tried to downplay the conflict referring to it as “priming the pump.”

I’d call it a partner butt kicking.

Today’s hastily called event showcased the many features of the Surface (which will be offered in both X86 and RT models), including the unique foldout keyboard that doubles as a cover as well as the integrated kickstand. But we were left in the dark on such items as price, availability and battery life.

What came across loud and clear from Ballmer and his team was this: “We’ll flood the earth with our own devices running Windows if we have to.” 

The iPad wasn’t mentioned today but it loomed large because every tablet will be compared to the leader dominating the market. But that may not be the correct comparison. With the included keyboard, USB port, and MicroSD,  the Surface appears to compete more with Ultrabooks than the iPad.

I don’t believe Microsoft wanted to design and build their own hardware. Software, not hardware, is in their DNA. They had no choice with Xbox and Zune. But today, Ballmer surveyed the scene, and sent a message to every one of his OEMs that Microsoft won’t stand on the sidelines and watch Apple release integrated devices that slow Windows growth and win over a generation who may never need Windows.

Much of Microsoft’s growth over the last 30 years can be attributed to the support of its hardware partners. Choice fueled growth of Windows and the integrated approach of Apple nearly faded into oblivion in the late 90’s.

But few, outside of Steve Jobs, could have predicted the meteoric growth of smartphones and tablets which reward tightly integrated systems. That the iPhone business is larger than all of Microsoft can’t sit well with the man who once derided it.

By melding Windows 8 with its own hardware, Microsoft took a page out of the Apple playbook.

And keep your eye on what’s happening with Nokia.

Surface Phone anyone?

But It Comes With A Bug Deflector

It’s not supposed to happen like this.

Especially in consumer electronics where new tech comes along and knocks the leader of its perch. Look no further than the gaming consoles pioneered by Atari and Nintendo which eventually gave way to the Sony Playstation. Until, of course, Nintendo regained its footing with the Wii only to have Microsoft waiting in the wings with its Xbox and hot selling Kinect.

But that’s not what we’re witnessing in the consumer tablet market. In fact, it’s not really a tablet market as much as it’s the iPad’s market where a few companies dabble from time to time.

Competitors like Samsung, Blackberry, Sony, Toshiba, and Motorola have had two years to produce something that gives Apple a run for its money. And, to date, each of them have created tablets which consumers find less appetizing than a turd sandwich.

I see these competing tablets each time I visit Fred Meyer or Fry’s Electronics because they stand out like a sore thumb. You’ll find them sitting on a table, screens covered in dust and seldom turned on. If consumers cared about them wouldn’t they be operational? Have Samsung and Sony executives never stepped foot inside an Apple store to see how real people interact with their products?

The new iPad’s most fearsome competitor is the iPad 2. Even the original iPad holds its own! Think about that for a minute. Apple is replacing the best selling iPad ever (that has no peer) with another iPad.  Honda used to do this to the mid-sized sedan market every few years. Just when the Camry or Taurus began to gain ground, Honda would release a new Accord that reset the bar. In a sense, Apple is doing the same thing except, in their market, they also make the Camry and Taurus.

At this point, anyone purchasing a tablet without the Apple logo is intentionally telling everyone, "I do not want the best tablet available". They may have philosophical differences with how Apple conducts business, but from a product standpoint nobody else is even in the game.

Imagine the cost of a BMW M3 and the Ford Fiesta were identical. The non-Apple tablet buyer is akin to the guy who, given that choice, selects the Fiesta and then tells everyone else that his car came with a bug deflector and rear spoiler.

Narrowing The Search

The Aiwa portable cassette player I’d been saving for was smaller than the Sony Walkman plus it looked a lot cooler which was the main reason I wanted it. I hadn’t been out of high school long, but had saved the nearly $300 to buy my first portable music player.

The same day my pay check arrived, I headed down the the local Inkleys which sold mostly cameras but also carried a few higher end portable cassette players on the market. The owner recognized me from my many visits to the store to compare models and answer my questions. I had narrowed down my search to two models and had decided the more expensive model was the best choice. As I pulled my wallet out, the owner stopped me and offered to let me listen to both models.

I assumed the more expensive one would sound better but it didn’t. In fact, I couldn’t tell the difference. The owner explained that the more expensive model included a motorized antenna which added not only to the cost but to the complexity of the player. I mixed my own cassettes and had no plans to listen to the radio so I ended up saving about a hundred bucks that day. The owner had earned my trust and I continued to purchase a number of items from him over the years.

I’ve thought about this experience with the owner of this small camera shop a number of times since I’ve started spending a good portion of my day advising people what computer to purchase.

Each day I speak with people who trust me to help them find the right system. Friends and family call to ask similar questions because the choices are so confusing. I hope I don’t sound like the Verizon employee in the SNL spoof video below. And as much as I try, I know there are times I do.

Through much trial and error I’ve found a system that works well for me. That includes a mid-range Windows 7 desktop, an iPad2, and iPhone 4S. I have as many friends attempt to sway more over to an Android phone as I do Mac fans trying to get me to abandon a PC running Windows. Contrary to what some people, moving between Windows and iOS devices is painless. As much as I enjoy the “it just works” nature of my iPad and iPhone, I still enjoy building my own PC by hand, with components I’ve selected right down to the make and model of case fans.

What works for me may not work well for you and vice versa. I’m fine if someone asks for my opinion on a computer, but decides to go with another model. Where I get frustrated is when my opinion is followed with a “But the guy at Best Buy liked this one..” or “Ya, but my brother doesn’t like that one…” type answer. My standard reply in those rare instances is “Then it sounds like you already have an answer” because it’s impossible to debate the imaginary Best Buy employee.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy building PCs for my father. He does his homework before asking my opinion and then we discuss options that give him the most bang for his dollar. I’ve lost count how many computers I’ve built for him over the years, but it’s quite a few.

And he even carries an Android phone.


A Few Thoughts On iTunes Match

When Apple announced iTunes Music Match I didn’t give it much thought. It was probably overshadowed by a phone or MacBook Air. Or maybe I didn’t fully grasp what Apple was offering.

Either way, I’ve tried so many music services over the years that the idea of yet another option felt like more of the same. I store about 15 gigs worth of music locally although only a fraction of that do I add to my iTunes library. The only music service that I stuck with for more than couple of years is Slacker Radio, and I still recommend their service.

Slacker doesn’t  receive the press of Spotify or Pandora, and they don’t possess the polish of Rhapsody, but they do one thing better than any other service I’ve used: discover great music.

But I still have a large collection on my home PC that’s organized in iTunes playlists. I found myself at work wanting access to my playlists at home so I decided to purchase iTunes Match for $25/year. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but figured it was worth a shot. My goal was to be able to play my music collection at work without having to manage two libraries. Match

I opened iTunes, clicked on Store and turned on iTunes Match. A screen appeared asking me to confirm my purchase and seconds later iTunes was indexing (pic above) my music collection.

From what I understand, iTunes searches my entire music collection to determine matches between music on my PC and the iTunes Store. Any match is immediately enabled for streaming. Any songs it can’t’ find in the iTunes store, it uploads (up to 25,000 songs) to their iCloud. One nifty feature of iTunes Match is that, whenever possible, your music files are matched to a DRM-free, 256kbs high quality version on Apple’s server. If not, your songs are uploaded as is.

So far, I’ve made 5495 songs available in iCloud.


What I’ve enjoyed most about iTunes Match is that I’m able to have the identical iTunes setup at work as I do at home. It met my goal of wanting to access my iTunes Library at work.

I also enjoy being able to stream music to my iPad and iPhone. Space is always issue with my 16 GB iPad so being able to stream my music without taking up gigs worth of storage is sweet.

Would I recommend iTunes Match for everyone? No, I wouldn’t. If I had a small collection I’d probably load up my iPhone and plug it into speakers at work. Or I’d sync a few hundred songs via Dropbox and point iTunes or Winamp at them.

But I like being able to add to my music collection (Amazon’s MP3 store is my favorite) on my PC and having it show up everywhere else. No more managing folders and files on multiple devices.

iTunes Match is a “set it and forget it” service. Depending on the size of collection, it can a while to setup. The more obscure your taste in music, the more songs you’ll need to upload to iCloud. But once it’s working, there’s nothing to futz with. It doesn’t call attention to itself, and like most things Apple, it just works.

Microsoft Office on the iPad

Matt Hickey reporting for the Daily:

According to sources, the tech giant is actively working on adapting its popular software suite for Apple’s tablet. With the iPad making up over 80 percent of the tablet market and millions of people worldwide using Office, that could mean big bucks for the tech giant based in Redmond, Wash.

The iPad market is becoming so large that not even Microsoft can ignore it. This must really sting given that for 10 years Microsoft has tried to squeeze Windows on a tablet without success.

It’s assumed that both of these would work with Office 365 as well as mobile versions, such as Windows Phone’s Office Hub. Because it would be compatible with these full suites rather than as stand-alone apps, the pricing will most likely be significantly lower than existing Office products. In fact, it’s likely the cost will be around the $10 price point that Apple has established for its Pages, Numbers and Keynote products.

Today Microsoft sells Office in various bundles ranging in price from $119 for the Office Home and Student edition all they way up to $499 for Office Professional. I can’t imagine a scenario where Ballmer and company are thrilled about selling versions, even scaled down ones, for ten bucks a shot. If reports are correct, that’s about what OEMs pay for each copy of Windows 7.

When I worked as a product manager for Office, I once suggested Office for Linux during a brainstorming meeting. My suggestion was met with such derision that it wasn’t allowed on the white board. I can imagine the same thing happening to the person brave enough to first suggest Office for iOS.

But either way, this is a good development for iPad owners like myself who still juggle Office files on occasion.

The Apple Experience

I haven’t been shy about telling anyone who will listen how much I enjoy my iPhone and iPad. They aren’t the first Apple products I’ve owned, but they are the two that have fundamentally changed what I expect from products going forward.

Like most people, I carried a number of bland, soap-shaped feature phones from Nokia, Samsung, and Sanyo. Each model had a few more features than the previous one that I seldom had the patience to fiddle with. Even something as simple as sending a text message was a pain.

In 2005, I purchased my first smartphone, the Palm Treo 600. I assumed I’d become a texting, emailing and web surfing maniac. But that never materialized because there wasn’t a single intuitive operation on that phone. Something as simple as input became an exercise in frustration. Do I press the keys on the tiny physical keyboard, or press the digits on the screen or, heaven forbid, retrieve the stylus from its cave and tap the screen with it?

It was a horrible little device that I eventually sold on eBay. If you bought my Treo and are reading this, I sincerely apologize. I should have never passed on that turd of a phone.

But things would get worse before they’d improve when I decided to purchase my first Windows Mobile phone. My review of this phone can be summed up with the following statement: I spent more time killing background processes than I did using the phone. I know new Windows Phones are a massive improvement, but the bad taste of that Windows Mobile phone still lingers.

But everything changed when I bought my first iPhone in 2008. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was buying a mini computer that happened to make calls. I began consuming all my RSS feeds from my phone. I could deposit checks, transfer money, and pay bills from my phone. I could watch movies on Netflix, play games, track scores and listen to my favorite podcasts.

I was addicted. It just worked. And not only did it work, but it was fun to use.

I don’t believe I’ve heard a single friend describe the underlying technical specs of his iPhone. Instead they focus on what they do with their phone. When I hear someone talking about screen size, processor speed, and memory allocation I know there is a good chance they own a phone running Android. Google is one release away from getting it right. Yep, sure they are.

In many ways, the iPhone has set the usability standard so high that poor usability now anger me when I encounter it. Here is the first screen I see when accessing the admin area of my cable modem/wireless gateway. This is actually one of the cleaner screens I could find. Many screens include buttons aligned across the top and sides of the page. But to save settings, I must scroll down a table until I locate the “Save” button which is located inside a small windows that’s inside a larger window. And even then, I’m not certain if I did it properly because there’s no feedback whatsoever.

This is the area users need to access to change the default password to their wireless router which has become a mainstream product. Geeks love to mock those who don’t change the admin password to their router. But I don’t see it that way. The failure isn’t with the users, but with the company who believes a product marketed to consumers can navigate pages of unintuitive settings with no explanation to be found.

I assume Motorola allowed only engineers to take part in usability tests for this product, if they were conducted at all. All I can come up with is that Motorola intentionally made these screens scary to anyone who isn’t an engineer because they assume the rest of us will muck with the settings which lead to support calls.


Now I understand that this screen represents a page from an area many users never see. But until the iPhone came along, I wouldn’t have given it much thought. But today it annoys me, and it drives me to search for products from companies that care about the user experience as much as Apple does.

A few companies do understand how to design products that are intuitive. Navigating around the settings of my Xbox and Nintendo Wii is a cinch. I know exactly where I am and what I’m doing on each screen. Dropbox, Flipboard and Reeder also come to mind as products where great care was taken to make sure every part of the product was easy to navigate and understand.

I hope that Apple’s success will influence more companies to focus on the user experience of their products, and not merely on the feature list and technical specs.

Maybe one day we’ll hear, “You’re such a Motorola fanboy.”

Thank You, Steve Jobs

Everything I know about Steve Jobs I learned from watching him introduce lust-worthy products in front of a majestic blue screen.

Sure, I’ve read books, articles and exposés that attempt to capture his style, personality and influence over a fickle industry of constantly changing consumer desires. But it was his many times on stage, pitching insanely great products, where his personality burst through. Even though he was becoming one of the most iconic business titans of my generation, I felt like I knew him.

I watched him introduce the first mp3 player that I didn’t want to toss against a brick wall. I’d never seen anything like the colorful new iMacs. They made my PC seen downright boring. But it wasn’t until he took the wraps off the first iPhone that I bought into his vision of how a smartphone should work. I absolutely had to have one. Nothing else would do, and the same holds true three years later.

Thanks to the iPad and Facetime, I’m able to speak with and see my mother whose recent stroke has made traveling from Utah to Washington impossible. My children enjoy modeling their new school clothes for my parents, and my son couldn’t wait to show them how he solves the Rubik’s Cube. All in front of an iPad.

It’s easy to dismiss much of what’s pitched to us in the name of better, sleeker, faster. But Jobs and his team have created devices that keep me in touch with those who mean the most to me. Of course, Apple didn’t invent every new breakthrough. But they perfected a number of fundamental technologies and made them not only approachable, but fun to use. Sure, I could email or send pictures to family before the iPhone, but I seldom did because the experience was miserable.

I will tell my kids that I watched Michael Jordan at the Delta Center. I’ll tell them about the night I looked down from the balcony and listened to Tracy Chapman strum “Talkin About A Revolution” on her black guitar.

And I’ll tell them about the man in the black turtleneck and sneakers.

Thank you, Steve Jobs.


This picture of Steve resting his head against his wife was taken last June at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. It was the first picture I’d seen where it was clear his health was deteriorating. When he’s speaking on stage, he’s so full of energy and excitement that it was easy to forget he has been battling pancreatic cancer since 2004.